SO482A.  Historic shipwrecks: Science, History, and Engineering

The Battle of Flamborough Head
23 September 1779

Bonhomme Richard and Serapis by William Gilkerson, Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum.

Bonhomme Richard is shown with royals and port topsail studding sails set. Both ships have courses clewed up. Note, also, the respective paint schemes: Serapis with a broad yellow stripe over her gun ports; Bonhomme Richard with solid black sides.

About the Presenter:


Dr. J. Scott Harmon graduated from the Academy with the Class of 1964 and served in destroyers for four and a half years before leaving the Navy to pursue an academic career. He received a M.A. in history from Utah State University and a Ph.D. in history from the College of William and Mary. In 1974 he was hired by the Interpretive Design Center of the National Park Service in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, as a historian. In 1980, he transferred to the Center’s exhibits division as an Exhibit Planner. Over the next eighteen years he worked on numerous Park Service exhibits projects including the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts; Martin Luther King, Jr., Visitor Center in Atlanta, Georgia; and the National Prisoner of War Museum in Andersonville, Georgia. Dr. Harmon is currently Director of the Naval Academy Museum and, as a member of the History Department faculty, teaches Naval History.


Lesson Objectives:


In September 1779, in the midst of the American War for Independence, a Scottish-born officer, commanding an almost derelict vessel flying the ensign of the Continental Navy,[1] engaged in a three-hour long duel with a ship belonging to the world’s greatest navy, a navy unused to loss in naval combat. The battle, fought off Flamborough Head on the northeast coast of England, resulted in the loss of two British ships, the Fourth Rate Serapis and the ship-sloop Countess of Scarborough. Why was a warship, commissioned in the American navy, off the northeast coast of England? What was its mission? Was there a strategic vision to the ship’s exploits? And, given that Serapis was in all ways a superior vessel to Bonhomme Richard, how did the Americans actually win the battle?

Click here for a short movie introduction to this lesson.

Movie from USNA Museum.

The Missions

"It is an axiom of naval warfare that the entire purpose of navies and sea power is to influence the land.”[2]

Beach’s statement begs the question: Just how do navies influence the land? Frank Uhlig, Jr., provides the answer: “[T]he underlying purposes of naval warfare … are to ensure first that friendly shipping can flow and second that hostile shipping cannot.”[3] This is a double edged sword. One edge: your own shipping must be protected; the other: interdict the enemy’s. The battle off Flamborough Head is a vivid demonstration of these two missions.

Mahan describes the ocean as “a great highway; or better, perhaps, of a wide common, over which men may pass in all directions, but on which some well-worn paths show that controlling reasons have led them to choose certain lines of travel rather than others. These lines of travel are called trade routes; ….”[4] He continues: “The ships that thus sail to and from must have secure ports to which to return, and must, as far as possible, be followed by the protection of their country throughout the voyage.”[5]

Protection of your own shipping is certainly an objective for a maritime nation in wartime, but it is also a peace time mission, witness piracy in the West Indies in the early Nineteenth Century and off the coast of Somalia in the early Twenty-First. It is in the exercise of this mission where we find Captain Richard Pearson, RN, commanding HMS Serapis, 44 guns. This ship, along with Countess of Scarborough, had the duty of protecting a large and vital convoy, from the likes of Lambert Wickes, John Paul Jones, and other “pirates” under whatever flags they hoisted.


Bonhomme Richard


18 pdrs



12 pdrs



9 pdrs



6 pdrs



Total Weight

498 lbs

600 lbs

Broadside Weight

249 lbs

300 lbs





Armament of Bonhomme Richard and Serapis.

Sources: Samuel Eliot Morison, John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1959), 226, and James C. Bradford, “The Battle of Flamborough Head,” in Great American Naval Battles, ed. Jack Sweetman (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1998), 36. 


Captain Richard Pearson, HMS Serapis Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum

Pearson was born in 1731 and entered the Navy when he was about 20 years old. He had distinguished himself on several occasions, once as first lieutenant of a ship of the line he took command after his commanding officer was incapacitated and safely navigated the ship through a hurricane. He fought in three fleet actions and on one occasion was severely wounded by a grape shot, but stood to his post until the end of the battle. Nevertheless, he had only been promoted to post captain six years before the battle with Bonhomme Richard.  For saving the convoy, he was received as a hero. A court martial exonerated him and he was later knighted. In 1800, he became Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital.

Identified with the other edge of this sword is Commodore John Paul Jones. His mission is the interdiction of the enemy’s shipping. In this instance, the missions of the two naval forces were the mirror image of each other: The American mission was to capture ships of the convoy in order to keep the supplies from reaching their destination and aiding the British war effort; Pearson’s mission was to ensure that the naval stores reached their destinations.

Captain John Paul Jones, by Cecilia Beaux, US Naval Academy Museum Collection.

Jones is wearing a version of the uniform proposed by the Marine Committee of the Continental Congress in 1776, except he lacks gold lace on the waistcoat that indicated the rank of captain. No epaulettes were authorized. The following year some officers called for a change in uniform to blue cloth with white facings, and gold epaulettes. During the battle, Jones apparently wore the newer, unauthorized uniform. Its similarity to the uniform of the Royal Navy aided in his ruse de guerre in closing with Serapis.


Strategies of Naval Warfare

Both of these strategies can be implemented by different means, one identified by large navies, the other by small navies. Large navies, such as those of Britain or France, classically used their large fleets to vie for command of the sea, a strategy called “guerre d’escadre” or war of the squadrons. By achieving command of the sea through a major fleet action such as Trafalgar, the enemy would not be able safely to put merchant shipping on the seas at all. In one fell swoop, the enemy’s commerce would be stopped, and the enemy’s war effort curtailed, the people limited as to goods—necessities or luxuries—that were available, and consequently less likely (hopefully) to support their governments' war efforts. In commerce warfare or “guerre de course,” the objective was the same, but smaller navies, unable to compete in major fleet actions, depended on attacks directly on the ships carrying the needed goods. Theirs was a hit and run tactic, seize the enemy’s merchant vessels and avoid confronting the enemy’s warships.

Students of the naval war of the Revolution generally refer to four or five “American Navies.” The first of these was composed of vessels seized or built by Benedict Arnold on Lake Champlain and another authorized by George Washington as Commander in Chief of the Continental Forces to attack and seize ships bringing supplies to the British Army besieged in Boston. Eleven of the thirteen states also had small navies to safeguard their own coastal areas and waterways. Then there were privately-owned vessels called privateers. These were authorized by the states or national government to capture enemy vessels for the profit of the owners and crews. A commission or letter of marquee issued by the Continental Congress or a state, differentiated privateers from pirates. It is interesting that although England itself had a long tradition of privateering, the British press often referred to American privateers, as well as John Paul Jones, who was not a privateer, as pirates.  Finally, there was the Continental Navy created by the Continental Congress. This was the nation’s navy and was never intended to confront directly the power and might of the Royal Navy of England. As a small navy, the Continental Navy, as well as privateers, employed the traditional strategy of small navies, “guerre de course” in which the enemy’s commerce becomes the direct target. The purpose of John Paul Jones’ cruise around the British Isles was to influence what happened in Britain buy using guerre de course to interdict British shipping.

Paul Jones the Pirate, US Naval Academy Museum Collection. The British press often referred to Jones as a pirate, as indicated in this spirited caricature. From the whiskers and clothing in the background, this is obviously not a contemporary illustration of the Commodore Jones.



Even before official French support of the American cause, some vessels from the States took advantage of French hospitality; in October 1776 Lambert Wickes carried Benjamin Franklin to France, then cruised the Channel taking several prizes into French ports. Despite British remonstrance against the apparent lack of French neutrality, Wickes managed to remain there about a year.

About the time Wickes sailed to France, events on Lake Champlain in New York State would initiate France’s entry into the war. Gen Benedict Arnold commanded a small American squadron in the Battle of Valcour Isle in Lake Champlain. Although the battle was a tactical loss for the rebellious Americans, British general Guy Carlton decided the fighting season was too far advanced and retired to Quebec for the winter. The ensuing year gave time for the rebels to build their forces and stop the British at two battles near Saratoga, New York, about the time Wickes and Reprisal were lost at sea. The American Army stopped, then captured, the British army under Gen John Burgoyne. News of that victory, carried to France by Capt John Paul Jones, among others, led France to ally themselves to the new United States against their traditional enemy, England. Here was a chance for France to regain Canada, which had been lost to the English in the recent Seven Years War, or as it is known to Americans, the French and Indian War. The Americans sorely needed supplies of all types and welcomed the aid of the French. Also, with a European ally, American warships and privateers had bases of supply convenient to concentrations of British merchant shipping.

The entry of France into the war against England gave the Americans a broader venue for their attacks on British shipping. Warships and privateers could cruise the English Channel and off the coasts of the British Isles, then be within easy reach of French ports at which they could replenish supplies or, perhaps, sell their prizes. American naval power, limited though it was, would attempt to influence the land by attacking British shipping; taking the war directly to the English citizenry, cause some economic hardships by depriving the people of goods, raising insurance rates and the costs of business, and taking the war to the very shores of England.[6]

The Battle

Two animations of the battle are available at any time.  to look at one.

Google Earth Battle Map  and animation.

Animations in the metadata documentation file, which you open by clicking on the smaller map (labeled "Battle Map") in the upper left portion of the display.

Animation in your browser.


22 September 1779, Mid Watch

Jones captures or drives ashore several vessels on Yorkshire coast. The whole coast is alerted to his presence. Scarborough Castle hoists red flag as warning to shipping. Militia is mustered to drive off possible landing from the American ships.

Forenoon Watch

Bonhomme Richard, disguised as a British ship, signals for a pilot from Spurn Head. Two pilot boats come out, and a pilot is lured on board and held captive.

23 September 1779, Mid Watch

Two vessels are sighted in the dark. Night recognition signals reveal that they are Alliance and Pallas. Alliance, commanded by Pierre Landais, has been absent for two weeks.

1 p.m.

Capt Richard Pearson, of HMS Serapis, along with the twenty-gun ship Countess of Scarborough, is escorting a convoy of about forty vessels returning with naval stores from the Baltic. Lookouts on Serapis see masts to the south.

3 p.m.

Lookouts in Bonhomme Richard see the convoy to the north, and Jones shapes a course to intercept. He tells the officers assembled on the quarterdeck that this is the convoy for which he has been searching; capturing those merchantmen, laden with stores needed by the Royal Navy, would deprive Britain of supplies needed to maintain its extensive fleet.[7]  

Pearson orders the convoy to head inshore and seek the protection of Scarborough Castle.

3:30 p.m.

Jones hoists signal for General Chase, and, with the light breezes, orders royals set on all three masts.

4 p.m.

Jones orders studding sails set port and starboard.

By now, the American ships can be clearly seen from the deck of Serapis. Pearson describes them as three large ships and a brig. Pearson signals for Countess of Scarborough to join him and he orders Serapis cleared for action.

5:00 p.m.



Marine drummers in Bonhomme Richard beat to quarters. Jones gathers his officers on the quarterdeck and lays out his battle plan: the six 18-pounders would pound the enemy ship’s hull; the 12-pounders and quarterdeck 9-pounders would concentrate on the enemy’s rigging, trying to disable her so that Richard could run alongside and take her by boarding. In the tops, Marines and sharpshooters will keep the British frigate’s fighting tops and decks clear of officers and men. To keep the men in fighting trim, a double allowance of grog was hoisted to the tops. Cutlasses, pikes, axes are readied to pass out when the order “Boarders Away” was given.[8]

5:30 p.m.

Serapis is joined by Countess of Scarborough.

6:00 p.m.

The British ships tack and on a westerly course, head toward the coast. Faced with what seems like a vastly superior opponent, Pearson is determined to place his two ships in a position to protect the convoy.

With Alliance generally ahead of Bonhomme Richard, Pallas astern, and Vengeance trailing, the American squadron bears down on the British. Jones hoists signal “Form Line of Battle;” a blue flag to the fore truck, a blue pendant at the main truck, and a blue and yellow flag at the mizzen truck.[9] The signal is universally ignored: Landais takes Alliance out of the line and out of the battle … for now. Pallas decides that Countess of Scarborough is a more suitable opponent; and Vengeance just mills about.

6:30 p.m.

Bonhomme Richard hauls up her courses, then rounds to off the port quarter of Serapis. Both ships are on the port tack at “pistol-shot” range (perhaps twenty-five yards), slowly heading westward toward land with light winds from the south southwest. Midn Nathaniel Fanning, in Bonhomme Richard, described the scene: “Just as the moon was rising, the weather being clear, the surface of the great deep being perfectly smooth, even as in a millpond.”[10]

In the dark, Captain Pearson wants to be sure of his opponent. Bonhomme Richard is flying British colors and Jones is wearing a blue uniform with white facings, the colors of the Royal Navy, instead of the uniform of the Continental Navy: blue with red facings.

Pearson hails Jones: “What ship is that?”

At Jones’ order, Bonhomme Richard’s master responds: “The Princess Royal.”

“Where from?” comes the response from Serapis.

Either Jones does not hear the query, or ignores it.

Pearson asks again, then adds: “Answer immediately, or I shall be under the necessity of firing into you.”


Commodore Abraham Whipple by Edward Savage, US Naval Academy Museum Collection.  Whipple is shown wearing the uniform authorized for captains in the Continental Navy: blue with red facings, yellow buttons, and a red waistcoat with gold lace trim.



“The Action Between His Majesties Ship Serapis, Commanded by Capt Pearson & The Bonhomme Richard Commanded by Paul Jones, Sept. 23, 1779” by William Elliott, US Naval Academy Museum Collection.

This is early in the action, Serapis is bearing down on Bonhomme Richard. In the left background, astern of Serapis, is Alliance, which in this painting by a British officer, is seen doing more damage to the British ship than the American. To the right are apparently Pallas and Countess of Scarborough, and beyond them the Baltic convoy headed for safety.

Jones orders the British ensign hauled down, American colors, with their red, white, and blue stripes, hoisted in their stead, and the starboard battery to fire.

Immediately, Serapis responds with a broadside of her own. The battle is on. On the first or second broadside two of Bonhomme Richard’s 18-pounders blow up, disabling the entire battery of 18-pounders, killing many in the gun crews and nearly blowing a hole in the ship. At the beginning of the battle, Jones has lost his heaviest artillery, more than twenty percent of his fire power.
After several more broadsides, Jones realizes that the British ship vastly overpowers his own. He must try to board. Jones backs Richard’s fore and main topsails, slowing the ship, then falls off the wind to drop astern of Serapis. Shifting his helm to port, Jones brings Bonhomme Richard down on Serapis’ stern in an attempt to grapple and board the enemy. The attempt does not work; Serapis drives ahead then swings to starboard in an attempt to cross Bonhomme Richard’s bow and rake.

In the light airs, Serapis does not have sufficient way on to clear Bonhomme Richard. As the British ship tries to cross the American’s bow, Richard’s bowsprit gets caught in Serapis’ mizzen rigging. According to Samuel Eliot Morison,[11] it is at this juncture that Captain Pearson calls to Jones “Has your ship struck?” and Jones replies “I have not yet begun to fight.” Bonhomme Richard then backs her topsails, bringing such wind as there was onto the fore side of the sails, and backing down the ship. With the two ships now unentangled, Serapis turns to port, again to a generally westerly course. Bonhomme Richard follows suit.
Getting to her new course more quickly than Bonhomme Richard, Serapis is ahead of the American ship. In the light winds, Captain Pearson probably felt his ship did not have enough way on to tack in front of Jones, so to bring his superior broadside into action, he backs Serapis’ topsails, in effect applying the brakes and slowing her down. As Richard, with bare steerage way, advances on Serapis, The American’s sails blanket, or block, the wind to Serapis.
Her sails not drawing, the British ship is unmaneuverable.  With Richard now off Serapis’ port bow, Jones puts the helm over and falls off the wind in an attempt to cross the enemy’s bow and put Richard in a raking position. “It did not exactly succeed to my wishes,” Jones reported.[12] Her sails free to draw, Serapis again moves ahead and two ships come together, Serapis' bow to Richard’s starboard quarter; the British ship’s jibboom driving through the American’s mizzen rigging. “Jones decided to make a virtue of necessity. A forestay from the Serapis had parted and lay across the Bonhomme Richard’s poop deck. Jones scrambled up the ladder to the poop deck and made fast the line to the mizzenmast.”[13]

“He slowly drove his jibboom into Serapis’ mainmast” by William Gilkerson, Beverley R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum.  (Click for a larger version of the painting)

About a half hour into the battle, Serapis tried to cross the bow of Bonhomme Richard, but, blanketed by the American’s sails, Serapis lost way.  Jones, seeing an opportunity to board, placed his ship’s bow into the British ship’s side. The boarding party was beaten back, and the ships separated.

The wind, acting on both ships, begins to pivot them, Bonhomme Richard more so than Serapis, so that Richard slowly, but inevitably, lays alongside the enemy. The fluke of Serapis’ starboard anchor hooks onto Richard’s quarterdeck bulwarks. Grappling irons lock to the two ships together in a deadly embrace. Jones, almost accidentally, has the enemy where he wants him: unable to use his superior firepower, speed, and experience. Bonhomme Richard carries a large contingent of Marines, who, placed in the fighting tops along with marksman sailors, are clearing Serapis’ tops, then turning their muskets on the British officers, and then anyone else on deck. Pearson tries to order the grappling hooks cast off, but the British sailors are picked off by the musketry of Marines and sailors. In a desperate attempt to break the grip of the American ship, Captain Pearson orders an anchor dropped, hoping that a sudden stop will jar the two ships apart.

It is now about an hour into the battle. On the bluffs above Flamborough Head, a large crowd has gathered to watch the battle. At sea, the wind and tide gradually swing the ships, held by Serapis’ anchor, 180 degrees. For the next two hours the two ships will be locked together, Serapis using her superior fire power, in accordance with Royal Navy practice, to pound the hull of the American ship in an attempt to sink her. American marksmen keep the British weather decks clear of people. At one point, flaming wads from the cannon set fire to the sails of both ships, and fighting comes to a halt in order to fight the fires.

While Jones and Pearson battled, the Pallas had taken on the much smaller Countess of Scarborough, the other British escort, keeping her from lending a hand to Serapis. Early in this stage of the battle, Alliance entered the fray, firing indiscriminately, raking Bonhomme Richard and killing several sailors. Alliance then dropped down briefly to observe the engagement between Pallas and the Countess, before beating to windward, away from the action. About 9:30, Alliance’s commanding officer, Pierre Landais, once again joined the action, but hardly in support of his commodore, Paul Jones. Alliance crossed the bow of Serapis and stern of Richard, firing into both ships, but mainly into the American ship.

Landais then turns down wind, wears around to cross the bow of Richard and stern of Serapis. Another broadside slashes into Bonhomme Richard, killing several men and a petty officer on the forecastle.

The climax of the battle comes about 10:00. A sailor named William Hamilton carries a basket of hand grenades and a slow match out Richard’s main yard and begins lighting and dropping grenades onto the decks of the British ship. One of the grenades drops through an open hatch onto Serapis’ gundeck, where it explodes. The result is devastating. Spilled gun powder and cartridge bags litter the deck, and the grenade sets off a chain reaction that explodes down the length of the deck. Twenty men are killed, many others are horribly burned.

Pearson is on the verge of surrendering his ship when he apparently overhears two of Richard’s panicked sailors yelling for quarter. One of the men, the carpenter who while trying to inspect the ship for damage, sank to his chin in the water the ship was taking on in the hold. Trying to find an officer, he found a gunner’s mate, who believes that he is the senior surviving officer. The two head aft, and not finding the captain, decide to call for quarter. Jones, who is very much alive and is not about to surrender, pulls his pistol and tries to shoot the carpenter. But, finding that he apparently has already fired his pistol, and not reloaded it, hurls the weapon, hitting one of the sailors and knocking him out. Pearson, however, has heard the call for quarter, and calls to Jones “Sir, do you ask for quarter?” Jones responds: “No, sir, I haven’t yet thought of it, but I’m determined to make you strike.”[14] Pearson is not yet ready to concede the battle and calls “Boarders Away.” But, the attempt to carry the American ship is met with heavy resistance and the British sailors retreat back to their guns.

All the while, at Jones' direction, the three remaining nine-pounders on Bonhomme Richard’s quarterdeck were hammering away at Serapis’ yellow-painted mainmast, gradually chewing it away with double-headed shot. Just before 10:30, with just four of his eighteen-pounders still firing, and the mainmast on the verge of going by the board, Pearson calls for quarter. Jones tells Pearson that if has struck, haul down his ensign. Pearson who had had the ensign nailed to the flag staff at the outset of the battle, tears it down himself because only he, alone on the quarterdeck, is able to move.

Lieutenant Richard Dale, Bonhomme Richard’s first lieutenant, in true swashbuckling fashion, swings on board Serapis, followed by a boarding party led by a midshipman. Securing the ship, Dale escorts Captain Pearson back to the barely floating wreckage that is Bonhomme Richard and introduces him to Commodore Jones. Just about the time Pearson arrives on board Bonhomme Richard, Serapis’ mainmast goes over the side, taking with it the mizzen topmast. Following custom, Pearson presents his sword to Jones,[15] and Jones responds, “Sir, you have fought like a hero, and I make no doubt that your sovereign will reward you in a most ample manner for it.”[16] invites the defeated captain to his cabin for a glass of wine. The cabin would certainly not have been very conducive to hospitality. The furniture would have been stored below or thrown over the side in preparation for battle. And, on several occasions, both Serapis and Alliance have fired raking broadsides through Richard’s stern, wrecking everything and leaving the quarterdeck above barely supported.

Throughout the night and the next day, Bonhomme Richard’s crew works to save the ship, but despite their efforts water continued to gain faster than pumps could discharge it overboard. Fortunately for Jones, the 24th proved dark and foggy, effectively hiding the efforts to repair the ships. Leaving orders for salvage work to continue, Jones visited Serapis. He returned to Richard about 7:00 p.m. to find that she was in extremis, and ordered the wounded to be transferred to other vessels of the squadron. At 7:30 he transferred his flag to Serapis. At 10:00 p.m., Jones gave the order to abandon Bonhomme Richard. At 11:00 a.m., September 25, the ship slipped beneath the waves, her red, white, and blue striped ensign still flying.

Review the two animations of the battle at this time.

Google Earth Battle Map and animation.

Animation in the metadata documentation file in the upper left portion of the GE display.



Conclusion: The Gouge

The battle between Bonhomme Richard and Serapis off Flamborough Head in 1779 is a perfect example of the dual mission of a navy: to protect one’s own maritime shipping and stopping the enemy’s use of the sea for commerce. And, it is a battle in which both protagonists were victors, but only one of which truly accomplished his mission.

Captain Richard Pearson’s mission was to protect a valuable Baltic convoy of some forty ships carrying vital naval stores to the ship yards of England. Ships built, repaired, or sailing from those yards were needed to put down the rebellion in Britain’s thirteen American colonies; supply the troops, blockade the American coast, prevent attacks on shipping like those of Wickes, Jones, and hundreds of privateers, and at the same time protect England’s far-flung maritime interests. Pearson, undoubtedly, accomplished his mission; none of the ships in the convoy were captured, and the loss of one or two warships was little price to pay (except of course for those killed or wounded in the battle) for getting the convoy safely home.

Pearson, also undoubtedly, was lucky. One wonders what the result would have been if Alliance and Vengeance had been more aggressive. Jones, at the time of the battle, had four ships with him, Pearson had two. Throughout the battle, the two British ships fought essentially single ship actions, leaving two American vessels unengaged. Could the two unengaged ships have caught up with some of the ships in the convoy? Captured some? Or driven some ashore? Jones was certainly not well served by some of the captains of the vessels in his squadron.

Jones did gain a notable victory over HMS Serapis, but his mission was not to fight enemy warships. There was no chance that the defeat of one or two British men-of-war would give the Continental Navy of the United States command of the sea. That is not the objective in guerre de course; it is to deprive the enemy, not of use of the sea, but of the use of the goods carried on the sea.

However, one should not look just at this battle to assess Jones’ accomplishments, look at the cruise as a whole. An American-French squadron circumnavigated the British Isles, capturing a number of merchant ships and bringing the war to England’s doorsteps. Merchant captains could not know but that there might be an American warship or privateer just over the horizon. Insurance rates on imported goods rose, bringing distress to the British citizenry. When, just two years later, a second British army was forced to surrender, this time at Yorktown, Virginia, the heart went out of England’s desire to hold on to rabble of ungrateful, troublesome colonists. Good riddance.


[1] We should note that the Continental Navy was the national navy under the Articles of Confederation, just as the United States Navy is the national navy under the Federal Constitution. The Continental Navy ceased to exist when its last ship, Alliance, was sold in 1783.  The United States Navy was born a decade later.
[2] Edward L. Beach, The United States Navy: 200 Years (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1986), p 464.

[3] Frank Uhlig, Jr., How Navies Fight: the U.S. Navy and Its Allies (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1994), p 399.

[4] Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783, 12th ed (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1942), p 25.

[5] Mahan, Influence of Sea Power, p 26

[6] Mahan did not recognize guerre de course as a viable strategy, in fact, I can find not mention in the index to his Influence of Sea-Power Upon History, 1660-1783 of John Paul Jones, the Bonhomme Richard, or Serapis.

[7] Evan Thomas, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), p180.

[8] Thomas, John Paul Jones, p 181.

[9] Morison, John Paul Jones, p 228

[10] Quoted in Morison, John Paul Jones, p 229.

[11] Morison, John Paul Jones, p. 230.

[12] Quoted in Morison, John Paul Jones, p. 230.

[13] Evans, John Paul Jones, p. 188. This would have been a superhuman feat. According to David Steel, The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship, Vol II (London, 1794), Tables p. 52, the forestay of a 44-gun ship, like Serapis, was thirteen inches in circumference, or about 4 inches in diameter.

[14] Quoted in Morison, John Paul Jones, p 236. This seems to be the origin of Jones’ famous quote, or misquote. But, Morison, is a bit confusing. On page 230 he says, referring to the opening moments of the battle, when the two ships first came into contact, that “it was at this juncture—not near the close of the battle as has generally been stated—that Captain Pearson called out ‘Has your ship struck?’ and Paul Jones made the immortal reply: I HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO FIGHT [emphasis in original].” According to Morison, then, virtually the same conversation was held at the beginning of the battle and at the end, certainly not an impossibility.

[15] Morison, p 238, says that Jones immediately returned the sword to Pearson, saying a “few gracious words about his gallant fight.” On the other hand, Thomas, p 201, says that Jones returned the sword “a few days after accepting it on the quarterdeck.”

[16] Quoted in Thomas, John Paul Jones, p 196.


Beach, Edward L. The United States Navy: 200 Years. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 1986.

Gilkerson, William. The Ships of John Paul Jones. Annapolis: U.S. Naval Academy Museum, The Beverley R. Robinson Collection, and The Naval Institute Press. 1987.

Mahan, Alfred Thayer. The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 12th ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1941.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. John Paul Jones: A Sailor’s Biography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. 1959.

Thomas, Evan. John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2003.

Uhlig, Frank, Jr. How Navies Fight: The U.S. Navy and Its Allies. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press. 1994.

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